On wasps, Pabst Blue Ribbon, chewing tobacco, and Easter
Updated: May 5
In the summer of 1975, when I was nine years old, I stepped on a nest of wasps. The painful event occurred at my grandparents' cabin on Patterson Bay at a time when I could – without exaggeration – go weeks and weeks without ever having to put shoes on. The pain immobilised me, and instead of jerking my foot out and running away, I just stayed there in shock whilst it felt like I was being attacked by an army of spear-wielding Lilliputians. I finally let out a scream and my Gramps, chatting with some friends nearby, came and swooped me up in his arms. He got me away from the wasps and told me I was going to be OK.
Sitting in a lawn chair with ragged orange and brown straps and missing a plastic arm rest, Gramps propped up my foot on the good arm to survey the damage. It seemed, almost before our eyes, that in addition to the severe pain, my purplish-red foot was swelling rapidly, like a balloon blown up by some wild-eyed clown at an unfortunate birthday party. A modern childminder would probably know to rush for an EpiPen at that point (as he or she would have also probably insisted on a child being shod in areas where not only wasp nests could be found, but also poisonous snakes) but this was 1975, and Gramps was not what I would refer to as a modern childminder. He simply shouted for his buddy Glen, with whom he'd just been chewing the fat, to come over when he got the chance. I remember that clearly: “when you get the chance.” My foot was, at that point, roughly the size of the Hindenburg before it burst into flames (“O the humanity of it!”) and I was not just a little piqued at Gramps' calm demeanour.
Glen sauntered (yes – sauntered) over. He was a wiry man with a squinty smile, a mouth full of chewing tobacco and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and at least one tattoo; under better circumstances I would have liked to unpack his story a bit. He surveyed the foot which, at that point, had grown so large I feared that it threatened to break the good arm of the chair, rubbed his stubble, and said, “Hmmm. Wasps.” I, looking up at Gramps as if to say, “How astounding is his observational adroitness!” suddenly felt something cold and wet on my tumescent tootsie. Glen had just emptied the entire contents of his not-insignificant gob onto my foot, and – in what could not have been pleasant for him – Gramps was rubbing it all over the affected area, which, at that point, seemed large enough to have its own post code.
Oddly, it seemed to work. The swelling went down and the pain lessened, eventually replaced by a near-crippling itch. Gramps washed his hands in the muddy water of the bay, and told me to thank Glen and to run on home to Grams. I thanked Glen and looked at Gramps, wondering how I was going to “run on” anywhere with that foot, hoping he had an extra shoe lying around somewhere. (Mind you, the foot was so swollen – in case I haven't yet made that clear – that it would have had to have been a giant shoe left by the aforementioned wild-eyed clown.) I hobbled back to the cabin, where Grams provided for me the appropriate histrionics that I felt the situation deserved. She washed and dried my foot and then we went into the small living room, where we sat on the sofa in front of an ancient television with an ineffective rabbit-ear antenna on top. Watching what I think was “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad” but was so fuzzy could also have been a travel documentary about the Aegean Sea, Grams rubbed peppermint-scented lotion into my foot, her caring hands just rough enough to soothe the itch as well. I naturally wished I hadn't stepped on that wasps nest, but how could I ever forget the care and love I received as a result? Why ever would I want to?
Now what, one may ask, is the point of this story? What ever could it have to do with anything even remotely Easter-y? Well, it all came up when I reflected on the lessons from morning prayer today. In the first lesson we have the Hebrews being led “with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters” (one of my favourite lines in all of English hymnody). In reflecting on the great lengths to which God would go to save his people, one cannot ignore the fact that they needed saving in the first place. Being God's chosen people did not make them immune to suffering – for generations their backs had been bent in slavery. And we know their miraculous escape from bondage did not wipe everything clean; they still lived in a world in which such barbarity was possible, still had to live with the effects and consequences that their suffering brought in its wake. But, in the midst of that, they also had that memory of a God who would go to such lengths to save them. They naturally wished they hadn't suffered as they had, but how ever could they forget the care and love they received as a result? Why ever would they want to?
And then in our second lesson we have a great rhetorical question: “O death, where is thy sting?” Being the people of the new covenant does not make us immune to suffering – for generations our backs had been weighted down by a great deal, the least of which is not death itself. And we know Jesus' miraculous victory over death does not wipe everything clean; we still live in a world in which people suffer and die, still have to live with the effects and consequences that our suffering brings in its wake. But, in the midst of this, we also have that memory of a Saviour who would go to such extraordinary lengths to save us. We naturally wish we didn't have to face suffering and death as we do, but how could we ever forget the care and love we receive even in its midst? Why ever would we want to?
And so this Easter Day (remember it's still the octave and thus still Easter Day!) we echo the words of Saint Paul: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We sing along with our dear Mother Julian: “He said not 'Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased'; but he said, 'Thou shalt not be overcome.'” We give thanks that in this world of wasps and pain, sickness and struggle, we have the memory of God's unfathomable care for us in Jesus, and have the challenge to continue to easter that story to a world sorely in need of its wonder. How ever can we forget the care and love that has burst forth from that now-empty tomb? Why ever would we want to?